These are some of the types of research you will need on your family history journey. It is best to work on these types in parallel and not spend all efforts on only one.


This data links an individual into a family group and tree. These are the record types traditionally associated with family history. Records used directly for this include: Censuses 1880-1940, Wills, Probate Settlements, Parish Registers, Military Pension Records, Birth Certificates, and Marriage Records. In short, any document that spells out the relationship between individuals. 

A single document usually needs other supporting records to be certain you have the right family. Individuals with the same name must be carefully separated. Now this leads to another type of family information.


This is the data you use to write a biography about an individual. These records tell you something about the person, but don't directly link the person to a larger family group. This may tell you the year and place of residence, economic status, and includes items like Compiled Service Records and Non-Population Census Schedules. The information in this research brings a person to life as someone more than just a line on a family tree chart. 

Records will also build an identity as well as a name for the person. This is how you separate persons of the same name. They may have the same name but will not have an identical set of associated facts. It can give a family characteristics to distinguish it from others of the same surname in the same area. A time-line of this data can be constructed and lead to even more records.


Genealogy runs on records, so sometimes you have to trace the records as well as the family. The county is king in Southern records administration before the 20th century. When you determine the county of residence try to determine if the family is located near a county line. If so, searches have to expand to the neighboring county.

Trace the genealogy of the county of interest. Each one has a date of formation and is organized as an original county or from parents. It also may give rise to child counties later in its history. A chart of county lineage with the year of formation and parent county is constructed. It is extended to older parent counties back to the time when the family came into the area or to the original county. This is necessary to find previous jurisdictions that hold records to further trace a family.

Records can point to other records so you have to follow the bread crumbs. An item may be part of an expected set of papers and imply the existence of other documents. Discovery of Revolutionary War service is interesting, but it implies service and veteran records may exist. A search must be made of compiled service records, lists of soldiers in the unit, lineage society applications, soldier and widow's pension documents, as well as state and federal bounty land applications and warrant files. One fact about an ancestor leads to many other sources.

Look at books and articles about your target county where the family of interest is found. A county history or family history from that county may not mention your family. However, the source may contain footnotes and a bibliography that reference the locations of records you have yet to discover. These must be searched for your family.

Ask what is the purpose of the record, why is the ancestor included, and who had them collected. Records may be created at any level of government (county, state, colony, federal, or European nation) and by organizations such as a church, social organization, or newspaper. This “why” can tell you more information about the family of interest and point to companion records that should contain the family. Sometimes you have to go back to the instructions to census taker or the state or federal law that mandated the record. A complete understanding of this background can yield more information on your research subject.